Tournaments | Story | 9/18/2020

Cream rises in WWBA Kernels debut

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Noah Smith (Perfect Game)

MARION, Iowa – The top of the Chi Town Cream’s batting order is crowded with talented, reliable hitters, guys who typically make contact, get on base and both score runs and drive them in.

And make no mistake, Maccallan Conklin, Joe Brown, Noah Smith and Cameron Hill were imposing during their at-bats in the Cream’s PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship opener against P2P Millers 18U Landgrebe Friday afternoon. Did they contribute? Oh, goodness yes. Were they the guys that got it done when it mattered most? Well, not quite.

It was three hitters from the bottom half of the order who laid down consecutive bunts – two that went for singles and the third a sacrifice – in the top of the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie and lift the Cream to a 4-3 victory in the first day of play at the Prospect Meadows Sports Complex.

“We struggled at the beginning of the game with our hitting,” said the talented Smith, a 2021 shortstop and Louisville commit from Chicago who is ranked No. 70 nationally in his class. “Then we noticed that their defense wasn’t playing in so we said, hey, let’s get a bunt down and see if we can get some runners on base and let our hitters do their job; that’s what we did.”

That is the way the end of the game unfolded and the small-ball was fun to watch. CJ Dean, the No. 7 batter in the order, led-off the seventh with a bunt single back toward the pitcher and then promptly stole second. Steven Sanderson followed with a perfectly placed bunt down the first base line and Dean moved to third on the sacrifice.

Up stepped Gianni Passarelli who bunted successfully back toward the pitcher and Dean came barreling home with the go-ahead run on the squeeze play.

“We weren’t hitting the ball well and we knew we had the speed,” said Hill, a 2021 outfielder and Purdue commit also from Chicago, who is ranked as a top-500 prospect nationally. “So we put the ball on the ground with the bunts and that really helped us out.”

What it really did was give the Cream a 1-0 record heading into their second and final pool-play game on Saturday. Only the 22 pool winners advance to Sunday’s playoffs with the event champion receiving a paid invitation to the PG WWBA World Championship (Jupiter) in Fort Myers, Fla., Oct. 8-12.

Chuck Reeder founded the Glencoe, Ill.-based Chi Town Cream program 10 years ago and he has only this one 18u team in the organization’s stable. Reeder, 73, made a good living working in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and is able to provide his players with certain amenities at no charge to the families.

The team travels in a large bus and the players stay two-to-a-room in their host hotel to encourage social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even while there are plenty of prospects from the talent-rich Chicagoland area, there are also plenty of others from out-of-state.

“When I jumped up to the 18u level 10 years ago there were a lot of established 18u teams in the Chicago area so I was the new kid on the block,” Reeder told PG on Friday, speaking from the Transamerica quad at the Prospect Meadows complex. “(The other programs) have 13u, 14u and all the way up – and a fall-ball team – and I just have the one summer team.”

The WWBA Kernels PG WWBA World qualifier is the first time Reeder has entered a Chi Town Cream team into a fall event. He decided to go out of state to build this roster and the results look promising early on.

The Cream played in several PG events in Georgia and Alabama once things got up and running this summer but it wasn’t this team. In fact, Reeder told PG, Friday afternoon’s Kernels Foundation opener was the first time he would have the chance to watch them play together as a group.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time … and I hope they can (perform) but we’ll see. We should be OK. … These are the guys we have now and we’ll see how they do.”

He does have a talented roster, led by Chicagoans like Smith and Hill. The 2022 infielder Brown, a Cal commit, is ranked No. 94 nationally and joins 2021 lefthander/first baseman Chase Dabbs (St. Mary’s, t-1000) as the two Californians on the roster.

Other highly regarded 2021s include righthander/outfielder Cole Koonce (Johnson County CC, t-500), righthander/corner-infielder Tanner Mueller (SE Missouri State, t-500), the outfielder/righthander Conklin (Illinois State, t-1000), lefthander/first baseman Alex Esker (SE Missouri State, High Follow), and catcher JD Garman (Marshall, High Follow).

The class of 2022 is ably represented, too, with righthander/first baseman Carson Estridge (West Virginia, No. 330), righthander/first baseman Jacob Morrison (No. 336) and catcher/outfielder Mason Balsis (Middle Tennessee State, No. 483) joining Brown.

“This is just a great group of guys; I met them yesterday and today I feel like I’ve known them forever,” Smith said. “I’m glad to be a part of this team. I appreciate Coach Chuck and his involvement with this team so, hey, let’s go out here and get some wins.”

Hill, the Purdue commit, agreed wholeheartedly: “I really feel comfortable with this group; I like the culture,” he said. “These guys will do anything to win and I feel like that’s a good thing for us. All these guys are just a really good group of guys and I’m proud to be a part of this team.”

This is a bit of a sidenote but being Chicago guys, both Smith and Hill had front row seats watching 2019 PG All-American shortstop and Mount Carmel HS grad Ed Howard rise through the ranks to become the first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 2020 MLB Draft.

“It’s motivation for me," Smith said of Howard’s accomplishments. “It gives me confidence and makes me want to do the same things he’d done.”

Those two guys were among a solid group of Chi Town Cream hitters who led the way on Friday even before it became necessary to start bunting – Smith singled and scored a run and Hill singled twice and drove in a run.

Conklin, the leadoff hitter, stroked both a single and a double and drove in a pair of runs and Dean finished with two singles and two runs scored.

2021 righties Quin Konuszewski and Eli Clotfelter, and the 2021 lefty Koonce combined on a two-hitter. Konuszewski, the starter, allowed two runs on one hit and five walks while striking out eight in 3 2/3 innings while Clotfelter and Koonce each worked 1 1/3 innings. Koonce was especially effective, allowing no runs and no hits while striking out three and walking one in the role of the closer.

“Obviously, it’s pitching; the guy on the mound controls the game,” Reeder said. “The only thing with that is, I have to see everyone. I’ve got 11 pitchers and I’d really like to see as many as I can. … I’m using this time to see what we have (in the program).”

This is the first time Reeder has ever made a run at receiving a Jupiter berth and he knows it will be an uphill climb – that’s just the nature of this beast.

The Cream will take on the Iowa Sticks Scout 2021 in their final pool-play game at 5 p.m. Saturday and then plan accordingly depending on that outcome. Even though Smith just met many of his new teammates for the first time at the hotel on Thursday night, he already knows they have a lot in common.

“That’s what we do, we compete,” Smith said speaking of the group as a whole. “We want to win and we want
to see the best arms and see the best bats in the country, so that’s what we do.”

Having to rally from a 2-1 deficit after the first inning of play and a 3-3 tie after five on Friday was a good learning experience for the Cream. Hill already sees that a strength of this team could be its ability to stay in every game mentally from the first pitch to the final pitch. The first inning was a little tough but the Cream rose to the top in the end.

“Tomorrow hopefully we can hit the ball more and the pitcher’s will throw more strikes,” Hill said. “We’ll be ready to go.”

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